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The Nightlife Of The Gods


Thorne Smith



NEPTUNE had been drinking heavily all morning and had eaten up all the gold fish. He was now ranging through the rooms, making himself a general nuisance. Venus had caught him at a bottle of her most dependable perfume. After she had driven him off with the aid of a long nail file, the thwarted god had sneaked into Apollo's room and finished off that immaculate Olympian's hair tonic.

'How do you expect your nieces and nephews to respect you.' Mr Hawk had asked him, 'if you make a practice of drinking up their toilet preparations?'

'I only wanted a little sip,' Neptune had defended himself, 'but they had to get stuffy about it. And besides, my nieces and nephews have no respect for anyone. They're hard, Mr Hawk. They're hard. Like that,' and Neptune extended a huge, clenched fist. 'Like that, Mr Hawk,' he repeated.

'But why don't you stick to whisky?' asked Mr Hawk. 'Isn't that strong enough?'

'It is, my dear sir. It is,' the god assured him. 'I am very fond of whisky. I might say I love it. It was merely a passing whim. The stuff smelled so damned good. But to return to whisky. Where is some?'

Mr Hawk provided him with a bottle, and Neptune retired with it to his room, where he could drink in peace and security.

'They get that way,' Mr Betts sympathetically observed, looking after the huge figure of the bearded god. 'It's this stuff—the official poison of a free country. It's so bad that those who drink it begin to experiment after a while, because they feel that nothing could be worse. These gods of yours are not used to the idea. They keep on hoping.'

'It's worse for Neptune than for the rest of them,' said the scientist. 'He's more out of his element. A man who's been used to taking his morning dip in any one of the seven seas can hardly be expected to adapt himself overnight to a tub.'

Betts nodded wisely and placed a cool shakerful of cocktails on the table beside his master. Mr Hawk swallowed one of them and returned to his morning paper. He was interested to find out the latest news from the Metropolitan. At first the amazing disappearance of the statues had been withheld from the press, but after the museum had been inexplicably closed for several days the truth had leaked out and an official statement had been issued. Mr Hawk had been relieved to find that his name was not mentioned in connexion with the case. Apparently the guard who had visited him in the lower corridor and the man to whom the guard had shown Mr Hawk's cards had decided that safety lay in silence. A world-wide search for the lost gods was already under way. Thousands and thousands of persons who previously had felt no qualms from their inability to tell one god from another were to-day discussing with intense interest the removal of the statues from one of the world's most scientifically protected treasure-houses of art. Mr Hawk had contributed this much to the advancement of learning, at any rate. He had furnished the world with a pretty problem.

He poured himself another drink, and after sitting quite motionless for a few moments, decided he was feeling a little better. It had been a hard night and an irritating morning. Neptune was not the only god who was acting up. The whole disorderly lot of them had gotten out of the wrong side of the bed. Diana's transient guest had departed screaming down the hall with one of her arrows planted firmly between the tails of his hastily donned dress suit. Venus had loudly refused to take her shower unless Mr Hawk turned it on for her. When finally he had consented to do so for the sake of peace and quiet, she had pulled him under the downpour and playfully mauled him about. In addition to this he had been unable to dislodge Mercury from the flank of the recumbent Dora, although Betts had responded at the first summons. It had been a morning of constant interruptions through which Meg, cuddled up like an abandoned doll, had slept quite undisturbed. Even Perseus, who usually was rather quiet and self-satisfied in the morning, had made himself particularly disagreeable because he had been unable to find any soap sufficiently gritty with which to wash Medusa's face.

Mr Hawk looked enviously at the peacefully slumbering Meg and felt the need of privacy.

'I might as well be the purser on a ship full of lunatics,' he mused. 'Why do they have to drag me into all their arguments and expect me to humour their every damn whim? Olympus must have been a madhouse.'

At this moment Dora decided to call it a sleep and managed to get herself to her hoofs by a series of heaves and jerks. Mercury remained behind her, sprawled on the floor. The cow greeted her host with a low moo. Mr Hawk returned the greeting with a thoughtful gaze.

'Betts,' he asked, 'what do cows usually have for breakfast?'

'About ten square feet of meadow,' Mr Betts replied promptly.

Mr Hawk considered this in silence. 'That would be hard to arrange,' he said at length. 'Don't they ever vary their diet?'

'We might give her some puffed rice or shredded wheat, sir.'

'A good idea, Betts. Telephone down for a dozen orders of each and take the tray from the waiter yourself outside. Don't let him come in.'

While Mr Betts was telephoning Hebe tripped rosily into the room. She gazed at the cow in delighted surprise.

'What a sweet cow!' she exclaimed. 'Why, the poor thing needs to be milked. It's 'way past her time.'

'Do you expect me to take up cow milking in my old age?' Mr Hawk demanded. 'And besides, she hasn't had her breakfast yet.'

'Of course not, silly,' laughed Hebe. 'You're not expected to milk her. Cows are always milked before they've breakfasted.'

This struck Mr Hawk as being another example of man's inhumanity to beast.

'Damned if I'd go through such an ordeal on an empty stomach,' he said.

'You'll never be called upon to do so,' the cup-bearing goddess assured him, whereat Mr Betts barked sharply into the mouth of the telephone.

'And if you'd like to know,' continued Hebe, 'cows like to be milked before breakfast.'

'Did anyone ever hear a cow put herself on record to that effect?' asked Mr Hawk. The cocktails were taking effect.

'No, but—' Hebe began.

'I knew it,' Hawk interrupted. 'You can't name one cow. It's all a piece of propaganda gotten up by farmers to excuse their unchivalrous conduct.'

'Be that as it may,' replied Hebe with a determined light in her young eyes. 'I'm going to milk this cow right here and now. She needs it. May I use that large cup you didn't want me to bear?'

'Oh, certainly,' replied Mr Hawk with a broad grin. 'I don't like milk anyway. The cow's name is Dora. I think you should know at least that much, if you are going to become so intimate with her.'

Hebe became busy and efficient. In a short time the sound of milking could be heard. Dora still holds the unique distinction of being the only cow that was ever milked in a hotel bedroom. Whether the cow considers this an honour or a matter to be hushed up is not known.

In the midst of the milking Meg awoke and sat up in bed, her eyes gradually growing larger and rounder as the true importance of what she was witnessing dawned upon her.

'A person has to get used to some weird and incredible awakenings,' she said, 'to live at all comfortably with the gods. What's happened to Mercury? Did he die?'

'Not quite,' came feebly from the floor. 'If someone will provide me with a strong, chilled drink, I'll make a game attempt to lift my head off the spot where I was under the impression a cow by the name of Dora used to live.'

The news of the milking of the cow spread rapidly through the apartment, and the Olympians, forgetting their various grievances and quarrels, dropped everything and hastened to the spot. They seemed to be the sort of people who hate to miss anything, even though they find no enjoyment in whatever it is.

The milking finished, Hebe generously passed the cup and was greatly disappointed to be met with polite but emphatic refusals from all present.

'Perhaps Dora might like some milk,' suggested Mr Hawk.

'Cows don't drink milk,' was Hebe's scornful reply.

'This one might,' said Megaera. 'She seems to stand for anything.'

'If a cow drank milk,' the scientist advanced thoughtfully, 'it would be something like discovering perpetual motion.'

'But what earthly use would a cow be if she drank her own milk?' asked Bacchus.

'She could pose for the news reels,' said Mr Hawk, 'or go into vaudeville, maybe.'

'Not a constructive sort of a life for a cow,' put in Mercury from the floor, reaching out a hand for the cocktail shaker.

'Better than reading want ads., isn't it?' snapped Neptune.

'I hate these nutty discussions,' said Meg. 'They never get you anywhere, and they always make me feel much worse than I really am. Don't let's go on with it. Send that shaker along, Mercury. I feel like one myself.'

'I have a suggestion to offer,' announced Mr Hawk. 'Surprised I never thought of it before. Why don't we all go swimming? This hotel sports a tremendous tank with Turkish baths and everything.'

'Oh, let's,' breathed Neptune, his eyes gleaming wildly above his flowing beard.

'I'm jolly good at floating,' remarked Bacchus.

'Then fill up your flasks and come along,' said Hunter Hawk. He rose from his chair, and picking Meg up in his arms, tossed her back on the bed. 'Slip on a dress,' he told her. 'And pry yourself loose from that cocktail shaker. Betts is waiting to fill it.'

At the entrance to the pool the Olympians, good-naturedly accepting the conventional order of things, split up according to sexes and under the guidance of Meg and Mr Hawk retired to the dressing-rooms where they were provided with suits which also elicited a certain amount of subdued merriment. Previous to donning them, however, the attendants put them through their paces. Mr Hawk was hurled to a table by a Swedish giant and his lean body subjected to the most brutal treatment. Nor was he alone in his suffering. All of the gods were receiving like punishment, beneath which their good-humour was gradually giving place to amazed indignation. In their untutored minds the impression grew that their assailants were grimly determined to do them in, and with equal grimness the gods were determined not to be done in. Strangely enough, it was Mr Hawk, who should have known better, who first broke into rebellion. After repeatedly asking his furious Swede not to do a certain thing to him and receiving no satisfaction, he petrified the man in his tracks and painfully rose from the table, leaving the Swede standing in a half-crouching position, his huge, torturing hands impotently pawing thin air. The scientist was just in time to witness Bacchus's quaint idea of retaliation. The fat god, red in the face and kneaded beyond further endurance, suddenly placed a foot in the earnest face of his attendant and pushed it with truly Olympian vigour. The man slid across the floor and landed with a thud against the tiled wall, many feet away.

'That,' said Bacchus, rolling himself off the table, 'will teach you how to handle a gentleman and a god. What a way to carry on!'

From the table on which Neptune was contorted came the sound of unpleasant squabbling.

'Keep your horrid talons out of my beard, I'm telling you,' the sea god was saying.

'Then why don't you hold your beard up like I asked you?' demanded the man.

'I'd look pretty lying here, wouldn't I, holding it up in the air?' Neptune scathingly retorted. 'I won't do it.'

'Well, if you don't hold up that beard you can't blame me if I get my hands all tangled up in the damned thing,' said the man, making a lunge at the prostrate god, who grunted beneath the impact.

'One moment, my good man,' Neptune continued. 'Be a little more careful how you address this beard. I feel like knocking your block off as it is.'

'Try and do it,' said the man.

Neptune did not try. He did it. The block was not exactly knocked off, but it and its owner found themselves crumpled up on the floor beside the body of their still dazed fellow countryman. The discovery of Mr Hawk's petrified attendant was attracting increasing attention. The rubbers of the gods gave up their rubbing and hurried to inspect the solidified figure of the ex-mangler.

Taking advantage of the lull in the hostilities, Mr Hawk led his gods into the steam room, which was immediately filled with their cries and imprecations.

'Who in Hades thought of this one?' demanded Apollo, springing up from a flesh-searing deck chair and regarding parts of his scorched self ruefully. 'Plato himself would object to this.'

'Will you kindly turn me to stone?' pleaded Bacchus, wallowing through the vapour towards the faintly amused Mr Hawk.

Neptune, his beard glistening with moisture, was addressing himself to a perfect stranger who had apparently just awakened from a comfortable nap.

'My dear good sir,' asked Neptune, 'how the deuce can you lie there sleeping when people are dying all around you?'

'I don't understand,' gasped the man.

'Neither do I,' said Neptune, turning his back on the man.

Mr Hawk could tell at a glance that the steam room was not going to make a hit with the gods. Accordingly, he led them from the room and induced Bacchus to get himself under a stinging shower of ice-cold needles.

'More punishment!' screamed Bacchus. 'Howling Cerberus, what a day!'

The Titanic laughter of the Olympians resounded in the room. Bacchus staggered from the shower and made for the dressing-room. The gods were at his heels. They, too, had just remembered the flasks.

'This,' said Bacchus, removing one of them from his lips, 'seems to me to be about the only reasonable thing we've done since we were lured into this small but efficient hell. What happens next?'

'This way,' replied Mr Hawk. 'Follow me.'

'One moment,' said Bacchus, holding out a restraining hand. 'This way to what? We've just followed you through enough.'

'The swimming pool,' he was told.

They helped each other into their bathing suits, greatly deploring what to them was an exceedingly prudish precaution. Neptune seized his trident and followed Mr Hawk from the room. They were joined in the pool by Meg and the goddesses, and experiences were excitedly exchanged. A group of swimmers stood listening close by and marvelled at the innocence of the gods. It was a surprising thing to them how such a splendid-looking body of men and women could display such profound ignorance of Turkish bath technique.

'We locked all those female murderers in a room and had a swell time,' giggled Venus. 'Slipped down a lot of cocktails. I feel dizzy as anything.'

Apparently so did everybody, including Mr Hawk and Meg.

'Here I go on the crest of a wave!' cried Venus, and flung herself with a splash upon the contented face of an elderly gentleman who immediately disappeared from sight. When at last he came up for air, his face did not look nearly so contented.

'Sorry I got my face in the way,' he remarked bitterly. 'Why don't you hold me under the next time? Make a thorough job of it.'

'Why, you seductive old duck,' smiled the goddess, 'I do believe you bit me right there, of all places.'

The old gentleman paddled disgustedly away.

Diana, poised on a high spring-board, dived gracefully into the tank. The other gods and goddesses unceremoniously followed her. Meg sought a shallow corner, where she did considerable splashing, to the annoyance of all in her vicinity. Mr Hawk launched his lean frame into the pool and swam about with dignity and concentration. While thus engaged he received a violent slap in the face delivered by a lady who had suddenly and spasmodically leaped half out of the water. When Mr Hawk came up, the lady was glaring balefully at him.

'Take that,' she said, and down went Mr Hawk again.

'Before I go down for the third and last time,' said the scientist when he had once more reached the surface, 'I would very much like to know for what reason I'm being drowned?'

'You know already,' snapped the lady. 'Keep your hands to yourself.'

'What did he do?' asked an interested bystander. 'He gave me an awful pinch below the surface,' the lady announced in a loud voice. 'I don't know how I'll ever be able to explain the mark to my husband. Such a place to pinch.'

Mr Hawk felt like going down for the third time of his own free will, but he gamely trod water and faced the mysteriously assaulted woman.

'I don't know what place you are speaking about,' he told her, 'but I want to assure you it wasn't I who took the liberty of pinching it.'

'Isn't he the roguish devil?' a feminine voice exclaimed.

'You did pinch it,' retorted the woman.

'What?' shot back Mr Hawk.

'You know what,' she answered.

'My dear lady,' Mr Hawk said pleadingly, 'I don't know what on earth you are talking about.'

'I can make a pretty close guess,' observed Venus, swimming up to the little group that had gathered round Mr Hawk and the affronted woman.

At that moment she uttered another startled cry and made a frantic attempt to rise from the pool. She only half succeeded and fell back with a splash.

'I suppose I did that?' demanded Mr Hawk. 'I wasn't within three feet of you.'

'He did it again!' gasped the woman.

'Not that gentleman,' said another woman. 'I was watching his hands all the time.'

'Then there must be a gang of them,' the twice pinched lady replied. 'I felt it distinctly. One can hardly make a mistake about a thing like that.'

'Hardly,' smiled Venus sweetly in her most insinuating voice. 'I should say not.'

The goddess had scarcely finished speaking before she herself made an earnest effort to project her flexible form into the air.

'Well, whoever is doing all this pinching,' she said, tenderly rubbing herself below the water line, 'should certainly get his nails cut if he intends to keep it up.'

'How do you know it's a man?' asked a voice from the crowd.

'There wouldn't be any fun in the thing if it wasn't,' she replied innocently, and was surprised at the general merriment that followed her answer.

'Oh, look!' cried a young lady standing at the edge of the pool and pointing down into the water. 'Look! Am I going crazy?'

Mr Hawk looked down through the clear water and received a decided shock. Neptune, his beard floating wildly about him, was grinning up at them in malicious glee. He was seated comfortably on the floor of the tank and in his right hand he held, deftly poised, his three-pronged trident. As Mr Hawk gazed, the sea god made a feint in his direction, then opened his mouth and rocked himself from side to side. Evidently he was roaring with laughter and enjoying himself thoroughly.

'There, madam,' said Mr Hawk, 'is the person you should have slapped and then publicly rebuked for pinching you in some rarely named part of your anatomy in which I am not at all interested, if the truth must be known.'

The woman uttered a shriek and climbed out of the pool.

'But won't he drown?' someone called in an excited voice.

'I hope to God he does,' said the woman. 'The dirty dog.'

An individual with a reasonable mind and a pair of knees that knocked as he ran appeared with the swimming instructor. This noble youth, realizing that something must be done in front of so many eyes, dived into the water and seized Neptune by the beard. For a moment the two seemed to be arguing, both gesticulating angrily, then the interview was terminated abruptly by the intervention of the trident in the pit of the instructor's stomach. He shot back to the surface and became busy about filling his lungs.

'He won't come up,' he announced when this necessary precaution had been taken.

'That seems fairly obvious,' said the dignified-looking gentleman, 'but does he give any reason for his extraordinary conduct?'

'He tried to tell me something,' the instructor replied, pulling himself out of the pool, 'but I couldn't understand him. That must have made him furious, for he jabbed me with his pitchfork.'

'But, my dear fellow,' the gentleman protested, 'you can't expect us to enjoy our swim with the knowledge that a fellow creature is drowning before our very eyes. The poor chap's probably mad or something.'

'He's mad all right,' said the instructor, 'but he doesn't seem to be in any danger of drowning. Look at him now.'

Neptune, pleased by the presence of so many interested spectators, was doing his best to entertain them. His best consisted of sliding industriously down the steep floor of the pool, then stopping himself grotesquely with his feet at the end. It was an extremely childish performance for a bearded god to give, but Neptune was at that stage of inebriety at which everything seemed convulsing. Growing tired of sliding, Neptune played dead. It was a horrifyingly convincing demonstration. Gasps came from the audience. Several women were led screaming hysterically from the room. All they had seen was the whites of Neptune's eyes, his matted beard, and his lifeless swaying limbs. The general effect was quite enough to unnerve the staunchest of souls. After this the sea god lay down on the floor of the tank and went to sleep, his massive head cushioned on his arms.

'The most amazing thing I've ever witnessed,' remarked the dignified gentleman at last. 'The man must be part fish. He couldn't drown if he wanted to, and I have no intention of letting him frighten me out of my swim any longer. One must look facts in the face.'

With this he pointed his hands over his head, gave snappily at the knees three times, rose frog-like into the air, and entered the water in the good old-fashioned way. Many of the spectators followed his example, if not his quaint style, and soon the tank had resumed its normal appearance.

Mr Hawk looked up from his contemplation of the recumbent god just in time to see the lady who had so thoughtlessly assaulted him poised on the end of the spring-board. It was an ideal set-up for his purpose. As she curved in the air from the board the scientist turned her to stone. In that position she struck the water a smashing blow and continued on to the bottom of the tank, where she remained without budging.

Screams and shouts once more attracted the swimming instructor, who, since the advent of Neptune, had been seriously considering throwing up his job. Realizing that he could not follow his natural inclination and let the woman drown in front of so many witnesses, he dived into the water and tried to move her. Looking up through the water at the blurred faces peering down at him, he shook his head in a gesture of discouragement. Then, as if seized by a new idea, he swam over to Neptune and once more tugged his beard. The god awoke with a furious churning of water and looked about him wildly. With bursting lungs the instructor pointed to the figure of the woman on the bottom of the tank. With a shrug of his shoulders the god removed his beard from the clutching hand and lay down beside the woman. The instructor popped to the surface with an expression of utter bewilderment on his strained face. For a few seconds he clung to the side of the tank gasping for breath. Then he pulled himself out and sat down heavily, his feet still dangling in the water. He was through with that tank for ever. He even doubted if he would ever swim again or have anything to do with water even to the extent of taking a bath.

'What are you going to do?' asked an indignant lady. 'That woman's drowning.'

'Search me, lady,' said the instructor. 'That's not a woman down there. She's a rock in female form. If anybody else wants to save her they're welcome to the job.'

A number of men jumped into the pool, and Mr Hawk petrified them for their pains. Down they went to the bottom of the pool in all sorts of odd positions. Soon the tank was filled with the petrified bodies of dozens of men and women. Neptune woke up and looked about him with a pleased expression on his face. Thrusting out his trident, he struck one of the bodies and was surprised to discover that the blow took no effect. He rose and jabbed viciously at several others, with the same result. Those watching from above were overcome with horror. Fainting and hysteria became the order of the day.

'Open all outlets,' called the instructor to one of his assistants. 'We'll have to drain the tank.'

He rose wearily and sauntered away to supervise the execution of his order. As far as he was concerned, everybody present could drown to their heart's content. He washed his hands of the whole business. It was a damn queer pool and it was filled with damn queer people. Saving pieces of statuary was not in his contract, and no one was going to tell him anything different.

The manager and several members of his staff arrived on the scene of action just as Neptune's head and the business end of his trident emerged from the rapidly receding waters of the tank.

'My God! Who is that person?' asked the startled official. 'Looks like old man Neptune himself.'

'Don't know what his name is,' replied the instructor, 'but he's been making a public nuisance of himself on the bottom of that tank for the last hour or more without coming up once to breathe.'

'Then the man must be drowned,' said the manager decisively. 'That's all there is to it.'

'I'm afraid there's lots more than that,' the instructor muttered.

'And who are all these other persons lying about down there in those ridiculous postures?' demanded the manager impatiently.

'I didn't ask them their names, sir,' said the instructor, 'but a short time ago they were all alive and kicking. Now they're just so many rocks.'

'Then they're all dead, too,' the manager snapped out. 'This is really too bad. It would have to happen on a hot day just when we need the pool. Can't you hurry up with the bodies?'

'Can't even lift them,' was the reply. 'We'll have to use a derrick.'

'Nonsense,' replied the manager. 'The excitement has affected your brain. I'll go down myself and investigate.'

There was no foolishness about this manager. A dozen or so dead bodies in his tank meant little to him save trouble and unfavourable publicity. He was a man of action and quick decisions, the majority of which were bad. When the pool was empty he descended the ladder and seized the first body he saw. The body failed to budge. He then laid violent hands upon another, with the same result. After he had wasted his energy on a third he stopped and looked up with a frown.

'Who's been chucking all these statues into the pool?' he demanded.

'They might be statues now,' replied the instructor, 'but they were living men and women half an hour ago. Ask anybody here.'

'Impossible,' said the manager. 'Never heard such rubbish in all my life. These things were never living beings. They're just plain, every-day statues, and not very good ones at that. Some prize ass has been having a bit of a joke at your expense.'

As if to refute the manager's words Mr Hawk released the figures. They rose from the floor of the tank and angrily confronted the manager.

'We'd like to know the meaning of this,' one of them demanded.

'Of what?' replied the manager, breaking out in an opulent sweat.

'We don't know,' replied the other.

'Neither do I,' said the manager. 'Let's get out of here.'

In the meantime Meg and Mr Hawk had piloted their charges safely away from the observation of an altogether too inquisitive public. The company was now assembled in the lounging room of the luxurious suite. Hebe and Mr Betts were busy at their appointed tasks. Everyone looked more refreshed and in better humour.

'When you're feeling low in your mind,' Mr Hawk observed, momentarily freeing himself from the stranglehold Meg had on his neck, 'there's nothing like a good swim if you can only work up the energy.'

'Well, you and Whiskers did your best to make a go of it,' said Meg. 'Both of you.'

'Thanks,' replied Neptune, 'but if you don't mind I'd prefer not to be called Whiskers. Don't ask me why, for I haven't the vaguest idea. If you call me just plain beard it doesn't seem to matter. How did you like my dead man? Was it good or just so-so?'

'It was perfect,' said Diana. 'Too good to last.'

'I'm not so bright,' answered Neptune, 'but even I can feel dimly that your last remark was not all milk and honey.'

'Say beer and skittles,' amended Bacchus. 'It sounds better.'

'When do we eat?' asked Perseus. 'You gods keep the most irregular meal hours. Now, when I was in training for monster baiting—'

What Perseus did when he was in training was never learned, for that moment Dora thrust her head through the door and mooed wistfully.

'Come in, Dora,' said Mr Hawk politely. 'You make the party complete. Wonder if she wants a drink.'

'Mr Hawk,' protested Mercury, 'she's the only lady in the lot. Don't get her started.'

'Well, I like that,' drawled Venus. 'How about our little Phoebus Apollo?'

'Come, come,' put in Mr Hawk hastily. 'Let's all have another little drink and think up something else to do.'

'Glasses, Miss Hebe,' called Betts cheerfully. 'We've got a lot of customers.'

With sweet, glowing eyes Hebe passed among the gods and deftly collected the empty glasses. The sound of tinkling ice made music for her feet.

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